Prototype Travel Advice Map for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)

Manuel Bär (GeoNET) and two other students of the University of Zürich were actively involved in creating a prototype map to display official travel information and advice for the federal department of foreign affairs Switzerland. This project was completed as part of the accademic curriculum of the University of Zürich. The final prototype product was presented to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and enjoyed a very positive feedback.


Laura Stehrenberger (UZH)

Christian Sieber (UZH)

Manuel Bär (UZH; GeoNET)

Presentation of the Final Project

Web map application purpose and target audience

What research question does your application address?

How can an interactive web map show Swiss travel notices provided as text information by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) in an understandable way, whilst being intuitive and easy to update?

What is the purpose of the map?

The maps purpose is to link the travel recommendations of the FDFA to a map, to generate a linkage between the textual information about a country and the geographical location of said country.

Who is the target audience? Who would use your map?

The target audience consists of all Swiss inhabitants, tourists or other people who are interested in travel information of a particular country. Therefore it designed for a broad, diverse audience.

Map data

What kind of data did you use and how did you process them?

We used several datasets including ESRI shapefiles containing the official FDFA acknowledged borders, Excel tables containing information regarding Swiss representations and JSON-files containing travel advice information, which are being used in the same format for the official FDFA travel advice App “Itineris”. The ESRI shapefile is converted to GeoJSON, after which all files are being loaded and pre-processed in the D3.JS framework. Most notable is the implementation of an algorithm converting the unstructured textual information of each country to geographic information in form of categorisation and finally polygon coloration through keyword search.

Data sources: Who produced the data, and when? How reliable and accurate are these data?

The data used for this project is provided by the FDFA and therefore the quality adequately suits the requirements of this project. The shapefile containing the country boundaries does not exactly match the shape of the background map. This variation is caused by the low spatial resolution of the boundaries and because the FDFA has got different definitions of some country borders. It is to be said that the FDFA provided a shapefile with a higher spatial resolution, which was unfortunately not up to date and contained various errors, making it unusable for this project. We are still collaborating with members of the FDFA to find a solution.

Design process

What were the key design issues you have encountered during the project?

The key issue was to keep the map as simple as possible and to integrate as many details and information as possible, hence keeping Edward Tuftes Data-Ink Ratio theory in mind. Another main issue is related to the bad resolution of the JSON-file which does not contain very small countries like Andorra, Cape Verde or Micronesia and seeing that the functionality of the travel information is directly linked to the polygon layer, the travel notices of these countries cannot be displayed.

Which graphic/dynamic variables did you use, and why?

Visual variables: size (embassies), color (polygon coloration), shape (country polygons)

Dynamic variables: dynamic symbols (embassies on different levels)

We tried to keep the use of different variables as low as possible due to the readability of the map. We only wanted to include the most important elements to keep the map simple and readable for as much users as possible. Color, size and shape are very easy to distinguish and are therefore used in the project. We did not want overload our map with dynamic elements because the content we are displaying is rather static. The only dynamic visualization in our project are the clustered markers of the embassies and the consulates as well as the background map which shows more detail when zooming closer to a specific country.

Describe a particular aspect of design into which you have put a lot of effort. Why was it so important that it deserved that much effort?

The coloration of the countries according to the text based travel notices was one of the most important implementations. The map reader should see at a glance which countries are unproblematic to travel to and for which countries more information about the actual situation is needed. Another key aspect of the map is the search functionality including grouped search recommendations and the zoom to result feature.

Describe the biggest design obstacle you tackled. Did you try something that did not work as expected? How did you or did you not solve this problem?

We encountered the most difficulties with the coloration of the map. Not every country in the JSON-file contains travel advice information and therefore we needed to decide in which category to put these countries. There might be some countries which are not classified properly because the travel advice warning is only valid for a certain area and not for the whole country (e.g. Turkey: According to the FDFA only the boundary area to Syria and Iraq should be avoided.).

What else could have been added to your application, given more time?

The possibility to change between the four official Swiss languages would be a great benefit for the project in order to be usable for all Swiss inhabitants. We also looked at different indexes such as the Human Development Index (HDI) and tried to find a good visualisation for this additional information. We developed a sparkline solution but decided not to integrate it into the web map due to clarity and simplicity. Inserting an inset map would possibly be an additional benefit to help the users orient themselves when being on a high zoom level.


Due to the fact that we were able to use official FDFA data, we have been asked not to make the prototype publicly available. Therefore some screenshots. If interested, please contact us and we will clarify if access can be granted.

  • Project Type: Academia
  • Skills: GIS, JavaScript, Leaflet, HTML
  • Customer: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
  • Project Year: 2015
  • Website: